TOKYO – When Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi tours Graceland later this month with President Bush, he will be representing a big constituency -- Japan has droves of Elvis Presley fans, and the biggest Elvis fan club in all of East Asia.
Koizumi, of course, is the most famous.
Last year he serenaded Bush with "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You" at a birthday party for the president. Apparently it made quite an impression -- Bush and his wife, Laura, will accompany Koizumi on his June 30 visit to Presley's estate in Memphis, Tenn.
"It's exciting," Jack Soden, chief executive of Elvis Presley Enterprises, said Wednesday of the upcoming visit. "Two world leaders, plus Elvis, plus Graceland."
The prime minister is just one of thousands of die-hard Japanese Elvis lovers.
The Elvis Presley Fan Club in Japan claims to be the largest in Asia with a 5,000-strong membership. Another 2,000 people or so belong to the recently formed Elvis Presley Society in Japan, said society president -- and occasional Elvis impersonator -- Tomikazu Taguchi. The even newer C'mon Elvis Fans in Japan is on a much smaller scale, with a membership in the dozens.
Some Presleyites are concerned, though, that interest may be waning as Elvis' fan base ages.
"Young people here don't really hear much about Elvis anymore," said C'mon Elvis Fans in Japan club President Yoko Hika, 64, who travels to Graceland several times a year. "I hope the attention from Koizumi's visit to Graceland makes them curious and want to listen to his music."
Koizumi, whose Graceland trip was announced earlier this week, has been helping rekindle the flame.
Fans snapped up all 200,000 copies of a limited-edition charity CD released in 2002 that featured 25 Elvis songs personally selected by Koizumi as his favorites, said Takuya Matsuyama of BMG Japan, which released the disk.
Koizumi, who notes with pride that he shares a Jan. 8 birthday with Elvis, will be in the United States June 28-30. He is scheduled to visit the White House on June 29.